Photo credit: Grizzly Media
Photo credit: Grizzly Media

From Bicycling

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to cancel in-person races, many athletes are feeling virtual event fatigue. There are only so many times you can race yourself against the clock in your own neighborhood.

That’s why Old Man Winter Rally, traditionally a one-day winter biking and running event in Lyons, Colorado, has come up with a new solution.

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Usually, Old Man Winter Rally offers a day full of events and a killer after-party. Participants can choose from a 10K trail run, a 50K mixed terrain bike ride, a 100K mixed terrain bike ride, or a 10K run / 50K bike ride combo. And the day is capped off with a massive bonfire.

But in its seventh year, 2021 will be a little different. This February 6 to 14, they’ll hold a version of the event in which athletes can sign up to race—same distances and the same courses—with groups of 10 or fewer. On the weekend days, there will be full support in the way of contactless aid stations. And for people who would rather race during the week, they’ll likely have the luxury of nearly empty roads and trails.

When creating the 2021 version, Josh Kravetz, Old Man Winter Rally race director and president of Adventure Fit Inc., asked himself what it was that he didn’t like about virtual events. “I didn’t like that a lot of times there wasn’t a real course—our course is so unique and people love it so much, all of these great mountain roads.” So he got to work to figure out how the courses could still be utilized.

Participants will record their time using their phone, GPS watch, or bike computer, and results will be posted on a live leaderboard. Adventure Fit has set up a tech guide to help participants not only navigate their ride with directions, but also understand how to use various devices in order to be added to the online leaderboard. Athletes must create a Ride with GPS account in order to participate, so everyone is on the same platform. Participants can run or ride their course multiple times during the nine-day period, and the best time will automatically show up on the leaderboard.

“The Old Man Winter Rally has always been just as much about the overall event and community as it has been about the ride,” professional mountain biker Ryan Petry said. “I think this is about the best option possible as it’s safe and still a fun race-like experience that we’ve all been missing.”

Photo credit: Ryan Muncy
Photo credit: Ryan Muncy

On the weekend days (February 6 and 7, and February 13 and 14), there will be full aid stations with single-serving packages and foot-triggered water bottles, as well as medical and tech support. If you’re going to ride with a pod of friends and family on one of the supported days, you must sign up for a start time. Masks are required anytime athletes are not running or riding, including at start and finish areas and in aid / support areas. Participants are required to adhere to state and county guidelines of group gathering size on race week and wear a mask whenever they are around others. Everyone gets a custom neck gaiter with their participation packet and are encouraged to wear them as a mask throughout the Old Man Winter experience.

“We decided to come up with a format that could be run no matter what the COVID situation was,” said Kravetz, who, with his team, worked with Boulder County Transportation to come up with this race format. “Short of a full-on lockdown, we’ll be able to run this plan almost no matter what.”

Since many professional endurance athletes also live in Colorado, many pros come out to this race to test themselves, while also just having fun. This year, which has largely been a continuous offseason, several pros are excited that Old Man Winter is going to happen at all. Alex Howes, a pro cyclist with EF Education First, will be putting together a small “pod” of friends and competitors to toe the line.

“I think it’s pretty cool what the OMW crew has put together for 2021. COVID is obviously a big concern but another virtual- or DIY-style event would likely be lost in the wash,” Howes said. “The format they’ve put together allows close training buddies and small ‘COVID bubbles’ to compete against other small groups without intermingling. I’m looking forward to getting out with a couple of close and equally cautious friends and having a real excuse to hit the gas pedal!”

Erin Huck, a professional XC mountain bike racer, agrees that this format is a nice change from other alternatives to racing she’s seen recently. “I think it’s awesome that Josh has gotten creative and found a way to make Old Man Winter happen. The format he’s put together, enabling people to actually go out and race the course during a determined time frame, offers a very safe and dynamic option. And, it’s a fun way to connect with a diverse cycling community— ravel, roadies, and mountain bikers like myself—of all levels.”

Photo credit: Ryan Muncy
Photo credit: Ryan Muncy

In the foothills of Colorado in early February, weather is usually the most finicky variable. The first version of Old Man Winter, in 2015, saw temperatures in the 60s. Last year, a huge snowstorm moved in so quickly that plows couldn’t keep up with the accumulation and the bike races were forced to call it quits as mandated by the city. But generally, the race sees a nice mix of classic Colorado sun, some snow and ice in the canyons, and a good test of equipment and perseverance.

One bonus of this year’s format is that people can pick their day. So if the forecast shows a brutally cold day at the beginning of the week, but more mild temperatures later, teams and individuals can opt for the nicer day. Or if they love to suffer, they can choose to run or ride in the snow. For participants who had their race called off in the middle last year, Old Man Winter offered a generous discount for the 2021 race.

“I think a lot of people are going to wait to see what the weather looks like, especially because they have a huge window of when they can race,” Kravetz said. “We were initially going to run the whole event over one weekend—just keep the numbers capped at 135 people, complying with the Boulder County mandate, and offer a rolling start.” But when COVID numbers flared up again, they knew they’d have to stretch the event over several days.

The 2021 format brings some other noteworthy changes. When the courses go through the city of Boulder, they’re always neutral, which breaks the 100K bike route into two segments. Usually, racers make their way up a canyon road and onto a road/path that has no motorized vehicle access. It’s almost guaranteed to be covered in snow and ice, and often requires hike-a-bike. Riders then make their way down a steep descent and must ride neutral through town. Then, they continue racing outside of city limits, on gravel roads back to the start/finish. But this year, this could function as a bit of a perk—because race times are calculated by individuals using Ride with GPS, it doesn’t matter if they take a huge break between segments. They could do the tough climb, roll into Boulder, have lunch, regroup, and then finish their race several hours later.

Racing will likely continue to be tricky in the coming year. Kravetz and his team just want to do something to boost morale in their community, while also keeping people safe. Amy Charity, founder and organizer of SBT GRVL, a gravel race in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, applauds the efforts of getting creative in order to offer an event, but also encourages individuals to take responsibility for their own safety.

“If an event promoter is able to adapt to keep riders and communities safe, and they follow all of the guidelines from the state and local level, then I support them in providing a solution for those who wish to participate,” Charity said. “Under the current order and circumstances it ultimately falls on individuals to adhere to necessary precautions and make smart decisions. Right now that applies to any outdoor recreation, from a small cycling event to skiing/snowboarding at a resort.”

Kravetz and his team have worked hard to come up with this alternative race plan, and are optimistic that over the course of nine days, everyone can participate in an enjoyable and safe way.

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